Charlotte Hornets are Headed Off a Cliff in 2020

The 2012 Charlotte Bobcats, at 7-59, put up the worst winning percentage in NBA history and, on a prorated 82-game basis, were three-tenths of a win worse than the 9-73 1973 Philadelphia 76ers.

Now proudly rebranded as the Charlotte Hornets, the Not Cats should seriously consider busting out the throwback jerseys because early indications point to a team that, with Kemba Walker playing in Boston and Jeremy Lamb in Indiana, has about as much firepower as bringing a BB gun with a stuck lever on the action to a machine gun fight.

Their best players with Walker and Lamb gone are Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller. Not exactly the ’86 Celtics or the 2012 Heat as far as Big Threes go, is it?

How bad does this team look on paper? Well, they’re only sitting on an 11-man roster, so there will probably be moves made, but let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt and fill the roster with what undermanned kids’ baseball teams on playgrounds call “ghost men” with a hypothetical 0.0 Value Over Replacement Player—in other words, “replacement players” in the textbook definition—and do some back-of-the-envelope math based on 2018-19 stats.

Let’s also not worry about minute-weighting since as you’ll see, that will actually make things worse.

The Projected Starters

Let’s start by assuming that Malik Monk will take Lamb’s starting spot at shooting guard and that Terry Rozier was indeed signed to be the starter at point guard with Walker gone to Rozier’s old team in Boston.

The forwards should be the same usual gang of idiots as last year—Batum, Marvin Williams, and a center-by-injury-committee of Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.

The rest of the guys: Willy Hernangomez, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, and PJ Washington, with the 12th and 13th spots on this roster filled, as mentioned earlier, by true 0.0-VORP replacements.

Raw Total VORP

When you total up the VORP for all the guys they’ve got, you get 4.7, including 4.1 for all the guys they have returning (if you believe continuity matters, there’s cause for optimism) plus the 0.6 Rozier brings to the table.

In theory, this projects to a 30-52 season, far from all-time awful and probably the best Charlotte could’ve hoped for after losing two of the best players off a team that wasn’t that good to begin with, failing to top 40 wins in each of the last three seasons.

But Wait, It Gets Worse

But remember what I said about minute-weighting further up? Two of the five places on the starting lineup will involve replacing 4.9 VORP—Walker and Lamb, and you’ll notice they’re worth more wins than this entire roster as constructed this year—with a 0.6 VORP guy (Rozier) and a negative-VORP guy (Monk, although to be fair, Monk was a 20-year-old rookie.)

You’ve got the opposite problem when you look at the frontcourt. Batum, Williams, and the Zeller-Biyombo pu pu platter are, on average, 30 years old (if you figure Zeller and Biyombo, both 26, as one player for the calculation here.)

At some point, one or more of those guys is going to go full Bluesmobile, and when that happens, there goes a solid three wins apiece for the trio. A dropoff or an injury and you’re in 27-win territory. Two, and you’re at 24-58 and thinking about tanking even with the reduced benefit under the new lottery-odds system.

In Conclusion

Let me reiterate. More value left Charlotte in the form of two guys (Walker and Lamb) than remains on the team combined.

The Hornets famously underachieved since making the playoffs in 2016. It was time to let this non-contending roster blow up.

But Hornets fans are in for some truly awful basketball in this coming season, and if the team continues to hold to its trend of not being as good as the advanced stats say they should be, even 24 wins might be over-optimistic.

Oh well, there’s always UNC and Duke.